Hollywood’s Unapologetic Portrayal of Gun Violence

kdlypen Blog Posts, HBHE 680 53 Comments

During a recent trip to the movie theater to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie ‘Django Unchained’ I felt rather unsettled to see two young parents sitting in front of me accompanied by a young boy who was barely ten years old. In classic Tarantino fashion the controversial film became a glorified blood bath as its characters wielded guns, fought violently and tortured one another, all while somehow making mass murder seem cool and fun. At its conclusion, I couldn’t decide if the film was awesome or awful. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy and in light of the endless media coverage surrounding our nation’s gun violence, I couldn’t help but think about the boy sitting in front of me and what implications a film like this may have on America’s youth.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) a typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence on television and in film before reaching the age of eighteen. Often heroes are portrayed as violent and are rewarded for their behavior. Take for example, Jamie Foxx as the title character in ‘Django Unchained’ – a bounty hunter who receives monetary rewards for each individual he kills. Is this the type of role model we want for our youth? One who perpetuates the notion that it’s both ‘cool’ and acceptable to carry automatic weapons and take down the ‘bad guys.’ AACAP explains, “The typical scenario of using violence for a righteous cause may translate in daily life into a justification for using violence to retaliate against perceived victimizers. Hence, vulnerable youth who have been victimized may be tempted to use violent means to solve problems.”

Image courtesy of photopin.com

When Tarantino was explicitly asked about the potential links between movie violence and real life violence he tersely replied “Don’t ask me a question like that. I’m not biting. I refuse your question.” And when another interviewer attempted to connect the events at Sandy Hook Elementary to violent movies Tarantino replied, “I think it’s totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health.” While I may not agree with many of Tarantino’s antics, he does make a valid point. ‘Django Unchained’ grossed more than $125 million in its first three weeks and won him a Golden Globe for best screenplay. Clearly all of the recent gun-related tragedies have not deterred Americans from paying to see violent films in the first place.

So I’m left wondering where we go from here. If violence is a fundamental part of our culture, rooted in our history, how do we begin to challenge these long-lasting social norms that violence is both a normal and acceptable aspect of our society? With all of the political and social discussions around gun control, violence prevention and mental health programs, perhaps it is best we start with some critical self reflection and look at the broader social context from which these ‘hot button’ topics are derived. As soon as we begin to acknowledge our own obsessions with violence as a form of entertainment and the potential impact it has on our youth, perhaps we can begin to shift these dialogues and enact meaningful social change in the not only the way we recognize violence, but how violence impacts our everyday lives.

Beresin, Eugene (2010). The Impact of Violence of Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/developmentor/the_impact of violence on children and adolescents opportunities for clinical interventions

Granderson, LZ (2013). CNN Opinion: Despite Newtown, we crave violent movies. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/14/opinion/granderson-movie-violence-globes

Rosen, Christopher (2013). Huffington Post: Quentin Tarantino vs. Krishnan Guru-Murthy: ‘Django Unchained’ Director Clashes with Interviewer. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/quentin-tarantino-krishnan-guru murthy_n_2455932.html

Photo credit: Il Fatto Quotidiano via photopin CC

Comments 53

  1. I always find it interesting the linkage people make between violent events and mental health issues. Like, only people with mental health conditions could be involved in violent behavior? If this is the case, then what about the people making money portraying violence in the media? We do not make sudden conclusions about their mental health status, although they are the individuals coming up with these concepts of violence and portraying various forms of violence to the general public.
    Violence is a social issue. Once this is acknowledge nationally, then we can further examine policies which target the general public. I worry about the impression these movies have on young children as well.

  2. Your blog post discusses an issue I have given a lot of thought. With the recent publicized episodes of gun violence, I have often wondered what everyday activities can be altered in order to prevent this type of violence and save lives. Regardless of whether it would make a difference, I think it would be difficult to reduce the amount of violence in television and movies without reducing the violence that is shown in real life such as on news reports. Even in the hours and days after the recent shootings occurred, there was talk about the need for heightened security incase a “copycat” incidence were to occur from people viewing footage of the real-life shootings. I think before society can focus on reducing gun violence in movies, interventions are needed to reduce it in reality.

  3. First, your post reached me on a personal level. I often have similar conflicted feelings when watching violent movies and TV shows. Part of me feels troubled by the potential impact this promotion of violence has on our youth and culture, while another part of me wants to ignore those feelings and just enjoy the show. Second, I think the question you bring up in the last paragraph is an important but very difficult one. I think you made a good point about our obsession with violence – so many people love to watch violent movies and play violent video games. I feel like there would be so much backlash to anything that would be done do try to change this social norm. I don’t think that means that nothing should be attempted, it just feels like such a momentous issue and I’m not sure where to start.

  4. I grew up knowing that what I see in movies isn’t what happens in real life. Now the paradox here is when what I see in a movie then having it happen in real life. Violence has been around since the dawn of man but, like the author, I’m not sure how to react when i watch these movies or when I watch my young cousins play horrific video games. I feel that no matter what happens with the gun control issue parents need to talk to their children about reality and fiction and what is ok and what is not ok. Education is the best thing we can do at this moment.

  5. I feel as time progresses, television shows, movies, and video games are only getting more violent. Even cartoon are a lot more violent than what I remember back when I was young. Violence is everywhere, it’s inevitable. We can’t necessarily blame the violence in these movies or television shows for the tragic events that have recently taken place in America. Parents need to be able to decide whats appropriate in their household for their children to watch, they need to be more involved and educate their children. Just because a child is exposed to violence doesn’t mean they’re going to grow up and become violent themselves, there are much more deeper reasons as to why certain individuals choose violence over others.

  6. We as Americans do have an obsession with violence, but that doesn’t mean it has a direct impact on how we live out our lives. I know all of us have watched violent movies or played violent video games, but none of us have become some type of killer. For the most part it is just entertainment. Just as someone mentioned earlier, we are taught that this is not the way life is, when watching a violent movie. And it falls on the parents for what they let their kids watch and play. They need to teach and explain to their kids that, that is not an acceptable thing. Sure a lot of things are violent in today’s society, but its entertainment, and people need to stop taking it so literally. If it offends you, then dont watch it. If you’re worried about how it effects children, then dont let you kids watch it.

  7. Hollywood has always been know to display extreme acts of violence and action to win popularity amongst society. Simply put, violence and action does sell and is a very popular genre of movie production. That being said, these types of movies always come with a rating which clearly states the intended audience for the movie. Overall it is a parents decision to allow their children to view such a violent movie. I would hope that in that situation parents facilitate what is going on and are able to distinguish reality from Hollywood antics for their children. We live in a changing world where violence is displayed more whether it be in movies or in video games. Ultimately I believe it is a parents responsibility to dictate what their children watch and to be able to offer guidance.

  8. Accessible media containing violence, like music, movies, and video games has been such a polarzing issue for decades and it never ceases to polarize. To me it’s not the fault of the fault of the media, it’s the parents enabling the child access to the media and to socialize in abnormal ways. I don’t agree that complete denial of violent media is warranted, but the less interaction and control from the parents, the more at-risk the child is going to be. In the case of Adam Lanza, the parents were completely irresponsible in their handling of the situation. They let Adam keep the door locked, while he was in his room playing violent video games and plotting his schemes. If I were Lanza’s dad and I saw the door locked, I bust the door down and see what he’s doing. Kids can think that their parents are pestering them too much, but that is the legal job of the parents until he or she is 18 years old.

  9. The irony of all this is that so many of the A list Hollywood celebrities who use guns to glorify violence in movies, speak out against it when interviewed. To me, there is no doubt that the impressionable youth sees the “badass” man with the cigarette and the smoking gun walking away from an explosion and the pile of dead bodies that he was just responsible for. Violence is so incredibly glorified in America that it is almost mainstream to replicate those acts of violence. Adam Lanza played Call of Duty, and even used several techniques from the game to increase his lethality and tactical advantage. I also play Call of Duty, but then again I work in Law Enforcement and therefore have 0 impulse to commit anything like what he did. In fact, I would rather be the one taking the bullet to save the potential victims. However, the media effect upon impressionable youth is not even deniable. Unless raised in a very responsible mindset of discipline and ethics, it is easy for a kid to see spectacular acts of violence as being “the norm.” Movies like DJango Unchained were borderline horrific, and the gore factor was horrendous. The gunshot wounds were catastrophic, and it looked like everyone who was shot had a bucket of red paint explode behind them. That is far more violent than real gunshot wounds, and is highly unnecessary. We need to talk to kids early about the realities of violence. Although the actors may look cool playing around with guns, it is not a very good idea to copy them in most any way. We need to teach our kids to feel humble when holding a gun, not powerful. They need to respect the power that comes with the responsibility of guns, or any weapon really. We need to bring back when lives were valued, and not simply statistics in the paper.

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